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Best hitter available still in limbo
Cliff Lee? Traded. Dan Haren? Traded. Roy Oswalt? Not traded yet, perhaps not at all.
There has been so much conversation about pitching that Prince Fielder — yes, Prince Fielder — has been overlooked.
Fielder is available. In fact, he is the best available hitter in the major leagues.
The Chicago White Sox, who play less than 100 miles south of Miller Park, are known to covet him.
A deal with the White Sox — or another team — is possible. But the elements will need blend just right for one to occur.
We know this: Fielder, 26, will become a free agent after the 2011 season, and there’s a very good chance that the mid-market Brewers will deal their first baseman between now and then.
Fielder said in an interview with FOXSports.com on Monday that he’s not currently discussing an extension with the team. So, he’s probably not going to stick around too much longer. The question, though, is whether July 2010 is the best time for the Brewers to move him.
“If you listen to what people are saying, I might get traded,” Fielder said. “But I really don’t care. … Right now, I’m just here with my teammates, trying to play good baseball.
“It’s part of the game, so I expect it. The only reason I’d be a little down is because I’m leaving the guys I came up with. Other than that, it’s a business. That’s the only thing I’d miss, is my teammates.”
General manager Doug Melvin will want to trade Fielder at peak value. For that to happen, multiple teams must bid up the price. Melvin should have a bonanza for The Biggest Bat Out There. Right now, it’s not clear that he does.
Consider several teams currently looking for a hitter: the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Rangers and Braves.
For each of those clubs, an offseason trade would be more feasible than one completed against the deadline vise. Players and money can be moved in December; the task is much tougher in July.
And there are strong counterarguments for other teams that want to improve their production at first base. The Angels should have Kendry Morales back in the lineup in 2011. The Rockies owe Todd Helton $19.1 million next year. The Giants have been pleased with Travis Ishikawa’s recent production.
So, that leaves the White Sox.
Hardly a feeding frenzy.
Remember, too, that Fielder’s $10.5 million salary must be covered by the Brewers or the acquiring team.
But before we entirely rule out a Fielder trade, consider this: If the Brewers have resolved to address their need for young pitching between now and Saturday, a trade of Fielder may be their only viable move. Because it’s becoming less and less likely that they will find a suitor for right fielder Corey Hart.
Hart has an injured right wrist and hasn’t started since last Wednesday. He probably won’t be back in the lineup on Tuesday, either. Barring a miraculous recovery, he won’t have enough time to show scouts that he’s truly healthy.
Too bad. Hart was having a career year. Some teams — including the Giants — seemed more intrigued by Hart than Fielder. Not anymore. Wrist injuries can wreak havoc on a hitter’s power and timing.
So, if the Brewers are to make a move of any consequence, a trade of Fielder would have to be it.
And make no mistake: If the Brewers trade Fielder, the move will send aftershocks through the game in the same way that the Lee deal did earlier this month.
Of all the sluggers believed to be in play, Fielder has hit the second-most home runs (24). And the only player with more — Toronto’s Jose Bautista — doesn’t have the same sort of track record. Prince is on pace for his fourth straight season of at least 34 homers.
On top of that, Fielder is hitting better this year with each passing month — culminating with an OPS of 1.051 in July.
The trade speculation wouldn’t be an issue if Fielder were to sign a contract that keeps him in Milwaukee beyond the end of next season, when he’s scheduled to become a free agent. But that’s not going to happen.
“I’m not even discussing that with them right now,” Fielder said. “I’m playing baseball.”
Fielder said friends on other teams haven’t bombarded him with calls and text messages, eager to learn if he might join them. They probably realize that he has very little control over the situation; he doesn’t have a no-trade clause.
Fielder said he doesn’t have any preference for one destination over another. But he would prefer to play first base, rather than move to designated hitter.
“Yeah, I like playing first base,” he said. “But I don’t have a choice. I don’t have a choice until 2012. Wherever I go now, I’d just try to help them in any way I can.
“But in 2012, I would like to play first base.”
Fielder ranks second among qualifying major-league first basemen with a 2.959 zone rating, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He has a .999 fielding percentage.
Fielder takes umbrage at any criticism of his defense.
“Yeah, I do,” he said. “It’s funny. If I was slim and skinny, people would say I play good defense. Because I’m a little thicker and chubby, I don’t play good defense, you know? That’s just how it is.”
Ironically, Fielder has played some of his best baseball of the season while the trade rumors have been most intense. He said he hasn’t received any updates from Melvin or manager Ken Macha. He’s just playing … and waiting … and wondering what it will be like if he’s called into the manager’s office.
“I hope they don’t do it before a game,” Fielder said. “I don’t know. I hope it doesn’t happen. But if it does, it is what it is.”
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